Archive for December, 2016

2. Baggy Trousers, Madness

December 28, 2016

baggy-trousers

Along with every other pupil at a state school in 1980, I loved Madness with a passion. I walked like them, One Step Beyonding up and down the back garden, and the chewing gum-grey concrete schoolyard, and the deep purple pile of the front-room carpet.

I loved their cartoon antics and their black-and-white clothes. I wanted Doctor Martens; I did not not get Doctor Martens. I wanted monkey boots; I did not get monkey boots. I got 2-tone plastic badges from the stalls at Swansea Market. I played my sister’s copy of One Step Beyond… repeatedly, pretending the lamp was a microphone stand. I joined the preteen cohorts at the Studio Cinema to see a matinee of Take It or Leave it in 1981. I wished I was a Nutty Boy. I looked like a Nutty Boy, in a trilby hat and borrowed wraparound sunglasses.

‘Baggy Trousers’ was the first Madness record I bought. All my classmates loved it, too. In this song, Madness were talking to us, a bunch of scruffy ten-year olds that nobody had addressed directly before. Even if we weren’t participating in the mitching and misbehavour, we were surrounded by it. The fights with other schools: Brynmelin Park, 3.30pm. Waun Wen boys against St Josephs. The oddballs who lurked about the neighbourhood: the school handyman who grabbed a boy by the ankles and dunked him in an oildrum full of water. When I was ten, Madness was my band and this was my song. I was a sometimes-naughty child, an always shy child (yet also a show-off) in an inner-city school that my grandmother had gone to (left school at 12) and my mother had gone to (left school at 14; shouldn’t have) and now here was I, with a life ahead and no map for where it would go. And now here were some musical hall minstrels singing about all that.

The song is nearly 37 years old. It was released the year Ronald Reagan became president and the Rubik’s Cube came out. It is as old as the St Paul’s Riots in Bristol and the Moscow Olympics. It marked my last year in junior school and turned me to towards the terrors of secondary school: a place where the older girls flushed your head down the toilet on your birthday, they said. Where people played chicken on the railway lines and stole the detonators off the tracks.

The 1980s were the days when everyone sold records: Woolworths, WH Smith and John Menzies, the Co-op and Debenhams. The place I actually bought it from could not have been more fitting: over the counter, at Boots. I probably bought it on the day it came out, (5 September) because I have a clear recollection of standing in its record department (Quadrant Centre, first floor, next to the exit for the bridge to Debenhams) and having to ask for it. I didn’t like doing that at all, because my shyness made ‘Baggy Trousers’ seem like the most embarrassing words you could say ever.

I must have asked for it, or made my mother ask for it, because I have it and it is glorious.

The artwork is beautiful, Humphrey Ocean’s pencil drawing of the band outside Cairo East underground station. Over the years, while I still wanted to be an artist and design record covers, I would copy it with increasing skill. I also catalogued this one using my own system (be gone, Stiff’s own BUY 84!: this one is NUT -145 – NUT for Nutty Boys, 1 for the first single of theirs, 45 for a single. So there.)

The B-side is ‘The Business’, a nice enough piano-driven piece with some echoey dubby bits. I have listened to that track three or four times at most.

‘Baggy Trousers’ never got to number one in the charts, only number three. A crime against pop music.

nut-145

(7”, Stiff Records, 1980). B-side The Business

Matrix signature: A – WE HAVE LIFT-OFF B: WIND ME UP

Baggy Trousers by Madness.

Label: Stiff

Catalogue Number: NUT-145

Run-out message: A – WE HAVE LIFT OFF B- WIND ME UP

Release date: 5 September 1980

Entered charts: 13 September 1980

Top chart position: 3

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1.1 Beginning.

December 4, 2016

Is it possible that I remember buying this record or am I remembering remembering? A dust-caked chain back through the decades places me in front of a free-standing bargain singles bin at Duck, Son and Pinker.

It turned out that Duck, Son and Pinker didn’t exist only at 11 Union Street in Swansea. In my circumscribed world, I thought this palace of drums and keyboards and electric drums and electric keyboards and electric guitars and Spanish guitars and tambourines and tunes and sheet music and singles and albums belonged to us alone; it didn’t. It belonged to Bath and they made pianos and printed their own music as well, and it isn’t in either of those places any more. It closed in Swansea in the 1990s and shut its doors for good in Bath in 2011.

I am in front of a bargain bin at Duck, Son and Pinker and I am buying my first record. I don’t know what year this is, although the year the single was released I was too young, so it isn’t 1972.

1972 was the year of the Munich Olympic massacre.

1972 was the year of the Watergate scandal.

1972 was the year of Bloody Sunday.

1972 was the year of Cabaret and Mastermind and Emily and Ernie Bishop’s wedding.

In 1972, Britain held its first gay pride march.

pride-1972

1972 was the year of ‘Crocodile Rock’, which somehow ends up unsold and a few years’ later is in the cheap racks, then in my hand and then now in the room in which I am sitting.

I don’t know in what capacity I ‘buy’ it: do I get pocket money, aged five or six, enough to buy anything bigger than a comic or sweets? Do I peel off a mitten and point a pink index finger at it and say ‘this one’?

But I am here, in town, with my mother and my sister, in the basement of the shop that sells music to the people in every shape they can get it, looking into a container of cheap singles.

My sister buys a single by Flintlock.

I buy Elton John’s ‘Crocodile Rock’.

crocodile-rock

I never listened to the record apart from to say to myself, to new friends, to whoever’s in the room that this, this is the first record I ever bought. Listen:

“I remember when rock was young…”

And yet, although I remember the act of buying, I don’t remember what leads me to this record. It isn’t the cover (look at it; even when pristine it would have been dowdy in its mustard and moss-green tartan). It isn’t the music: I’ve never leven iked Elton John, apart from the Kiki Dee one. Maybe he is the only pop star I’ve heard of in the pile. Maybe it is because I am mad about animals and will want to be a vet when I grow up and this sounds funny: a crocodile! Rocking! Ha ha.

Whatever my reasons were, it’s mine now.

What I don’t remember is the record ever making an impression on me. No spark’s ignited when I hear it’s first bar. I don’t know all or even any of its intonations and pauses. I can sing the la-la-lala-lala-la bits but it’s just a chubby fist banging up and down a piano chugging through some standard pub rock and it only makes as much impression on my as any other song from that time. It didn’t set the pattern for my tastes and I glad for that. The B-Side is ‘Elderberry Wine’. I’ve no idea if this song sounds familiar: it just sounds like every song Elton John has ever written.

Even so. This is where it all began and it’s travelled everywhere with me wherever I’ve gone: just not in my heart.

Crocodile Rock by Elton John

Label: DJM
Run-out message: /
Release date: 27 October 1972
Entered charts: 4 November 1972
Top chart position: 5

I catalogued this myself with ‘4A Eld Wine EL’ and clearly went wild with a date stamp on 30 Aug 1978 30 Aug 1978 30 Aug 1978 30 Aug 1978 30 Aug 1978.